As a pastor and therapist working with those who have experienced trauma, I have recently come to the conclusion that “God allows,” in regards to evil and suffering, is a terrible theo(il)logical phrase that can unfortunately erode trust in a profoundly loving and trustworthy God.
Deconstructing “God Allows”
The word “allow” is poison to the sensitive, God-seeking, and traumatized soul for two reasons. First, it makes God out to be a voyeuristic monster who arbitrarily jumps into time, willfully intervening in some people’s lives to save them from harm, and willfully choosing not to intervene in others.
For example, God watches a disturbed psychopathic man begin to rape a helpless woman and says to Himself, “I planned this before the foundation of the world, I could stop this but I am going to allow and permit it to happen for a grander purpose.” God, although all-powerful, just watches and does nothing to stop it. Then, in the next moment, God watches another psychopathic man, in another region of the world, attempt to rape another helpless woman, but this time says, “Ah, I planned this before the foundation of the world, I will intervene and stop this man from raping her.” Immediately, God intervened and had a neighbor go over to her house to see how she was doing. The perpetrator became startled, frantically ran out the door, eventually getting arrested at a nearby gas station.
It is no wonder people are aghast at the above kind of arbitrary and allowing God, especially a God who they think is 1. In control of everything that happens in the world, 2. Is powerful enough to stop any evil act from happening but doesn’t (which is monstrous), and worse, 3. Preordains these type of events to occur due to some Master plan.
Secondly, the word “allow” assumes God could have done otherwise. Going back to the rapist example, it assumes God could have taken His big metaphysical index finger and flicked the rapist away, or acted like Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past and at the speed of light manipulate objects or other people, so as to keep the woman from harm. As we will see shortly, there are problems with this kind of interventionist and unilaterally controlling God.
God Is Not In Control
To say God allows evil events to occur means that God could have done otherwise, and that is just not the case. Why? Because, God can’t do otherwise. That is right. Contrary to popular belief, there are things God cannot do (e.g. God can’t lie). One of the things God cannot do, which is important for this discussion, is unilaterally control people and events.
In The Uncontrolling Love of God, T.J. Oord writes, “mermaids cannot run marathons because a mermaid’s nature includes leglessness. God cannot create controllable creatures because God’s nature is uncontrolling love” (148). God cannot unilaterally control events due to God’s loving nature. Not only can God not control people and events in the world, but God’s agency competes with other variables, such as randomness, creaturely agency, and lawlike regularities. Thus, it is not that God allows evil or horrific events to occur, rather, it is impossible for God to control people and events, thus enabling all kinds of free creatures, randomness, and lawlike regularities (e.g. gravity, weather systems, etc.,) to run amok. Evil events occur precisely because a loving and uncontrolling God is not in control of all things.
God Is Controlling (Just Not Like We Think)
Just because God is not in unilateral control does not mean that God is passive. According to the Oxford dictionary, the word control can mean “the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.” I suggest that God is controlling, or to use a better phrase, “God is lovingly influencing” us, by inviting, empowering, inspiring, filling, convicting, leading, comforting, healing, and challenging us toward ever increasing experiences of shalom.
God is a Spirit, and God is love, and God is always doing the most loving acts possible in every moment, in every nook and cranny of existence. God can be one hundred percent trusted because God would never purposely or maliciously harm any person, especially for some grand Machiavellian purpose. This way of thinking about God is a grand revelation and no small proclamation, which becomes more believable without the cognitive dissonance producing phrase “God allowed” that is typical in many Christian responses to evil (or related terms, such as “orchestrates,” “plans,” or “wills”).
Please Christian, stop saying things like, “Oh, Betsy, God allowed your husband to die in that car accident for a reason. We just don’t know it yet.” Stop attempting to cheer up traumatized parents by saying, “God allowed your baby to die for a reason. It is all in God’s loving plan.” Get rid of the word “allow,” and stop giving people a reason to be confused, and worse, give them reasons to falsely blame God for the horrific events that occur in their lives. Doing so will prevent an unnecessary obstacle from getting in the way of them being able to have a trusting and loving connection with their Creator.
Spiritual Seeker, I get it. I wouldn’t want to love, or be loved by, an allowing arbitrary God either. Yet, I encourage you to reflect further. When you think about the abuse, pain, suffering, or flat out evil in your life, did God really allow or cause it? Or, did another person with free-will cause it? Or, did an unfortunate and random event cause it? Perhaps your suffering was due to unwise choices you made as a human being with free-will? I suspect, after some reflection, you will realize that a loving, freedom-giving, uncontrolling God, who only has sought good and loving things in your life, did not have anything to do with it.
About Mark Gregory Karris
Mark Gregory Karris is an ordained pastor, author, musician, licensed marriage and family therapist, and all around biophilic. Find out more about Mark at MarkGregoryKarris.com.